CPUs are the brain of any computer and an essential component of any rig. No matter what you do on your computer, the CPU will have some part to play in that task. That is why it is extremely important to keep that CPU stable under ideal temperatures, using appropriate cooling measures. One of those measures is liquid cooling.
AIO liquid coolers are a great and efficient way to keep your CPU cool. In many cases, they are known to perform better than traditional air coolers. However, installing an AIO cooler is not as easy as one might assume. In this extensive guide on how to install a liquid CPU cooler, we will look at some of the most common mistakes people make while installing liquid coolers and how you can avoid those mistakes ensuring the maximum efficiency out of your AIO.
- Your CPU will thermal throttle if you put a lot of pressure on it, which can potentially lead to hardware failure.
- It is important to keep the CPU temperature low, as this will help increase the overall lifespan of the component.
- Water cooling is one of the most efficient ways to keep the CPU temperature low.
Components That Come With An AIO Cooler
Let’s take a look at the components that come with an AIO cooler.
Waterblock is the central part of an AIO liquid cooler. It comes in direct contact with the CPU. There’s a baseplate at the back of the waterblock, which is placed on top of the CPU. It also has a pump inside of it which is used to transfer the liquid coolant to and from the radiator.
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AIO coolers come with two tubes. Both are used to connect the waterblock to the radiator and transfer water between them. One is used to transfer the cool water from the radiator to the waterblock. The other one is used to transfer the hot water from the waterblock to the radiator.
Radiators, as the name suggests, are heat exchangers used to exchange thermal energy from one medium to another. Radiators that come with AIO coolers usually come with one, two, or three fans that are used to cool the liquid coolant by transferring heat from the liquid to outside the system.
How Does An AIO Cooler Work?
Before we talk about how to install a liquid CPU cooler, let’s take a look at how it works. When the CPU is put under stress and utilized for tasks, it generates heat while processing. In order to dissipate this heat, the top of the CPU is covered in a metal lid called IHS or Integrated Heat Spreader. IHS is in direct contact with the CPU cooler and acts like a bridge between the CPU and the cooler. It transfers the heat generated by the CPU to the cooler, which is then dissipated out of the system. In the case of liquid cooling, the phenomenon remains the same, but it is executed a little differently.First of all, thermal paste is applied on top of the IHS, and the baseplate of the waterblock is placed on top of it. This plate is made out of metal, and it does an excellent job of extracting the heat out of the CPU into the waterblock. The waterblock is connected to the radiator with a set of tubes through which our liquid component passes.
There is also a pump inside the waterblock, which circulates the liquid through the entire system making the cool liquid come towards the waterblock and hot liquid towards the radiator. The radiator then works as a traditional air cooler with fans, lowering the water temperature by dissipating the heat from the water outside the system using fans. After the water is cooled, it can be used again to repeat the same process over and over again.
Different Sizes Of AIO Coolers
AIO coolers usually come with one, two, or three fans. There are two standard sizes of these fans, 120mm and 240mm. The number of fans and their size of it determines the overall size of an AIO cooler. This information is also present in the name of the AIO. For example, Cooler Master’s Master liquid 240 comes with two 120mm fans which makes the overall radiator size 240mm. Similarly,
- With 120mm fans, the radiator sizes can be 120, 240, or 360mm, depending on the number of fans used.
- With 140mm fans, the radiator sizes can be 140, 280, or 420mm, depending on the number of fans used.
How To Choose The Right Size For Your Build?
In order for you to select the right AIO size, you need to consider some factors. The first factor is how big your case is and if it can accommodate an AIO cooler. The second factor is what you use your computer for and if it can actually benefit from a better cooling solution. If what you are doing with your computer is pushing your CPU to its limits and to the point where it starts thermal throttling hence impairing its ability to handle certain tasks, then a decent-sized AIO can make your life way easier.
The easiest choice is a 120mm fan size with the radiator size that your case can accommodate. You can also go with 140mm size if you want better cooling and lower sounds at the cost of more space inside your case and more power drawn. After you have selected the fan size, you now need to select the radiator size by deciding how many fans you need with it.
If you are a casual user who does not like to test the limits of their rig by overclocking it and you don’t have a lot of space in your case, then you can go with a single fan resulting in a 120/140mm radiator. If you have a decent mid-sized case and you like to overclock your system every now and then, or you play games at higher settings, then ideally, you should go with a dual fan configuration resulting in a 240/280mm radiator.
Lastly, if you like to test the absolute limits of your PC by keeping it overclocked and everything you do is at hardcore settings and higher resolutions, whether it be gaming or rendering, then you must go with a triple fan configuration. This will result in a 360/420mm radiator. Also, before proceeding further, you might want to check out how to watercool a GPU.
Common Mistakes People Make While Installing A Liquid Cooler
Installing an AIO cooler is not as easy as it sounds. Whiel it is important to learn about how to install a liquid CPU cooler, you must also learn about the things you should avoid during the process. Installing your AIO incorrectly can severely affect its performance and even damage it in some cases. Average first-time PC builder is more than likely to run into some problem while installing their AIO. Mentioned below are some of the mistakes you are likely to commit while installing the cooler.
The first and the most common mistake people make while installing their AIO is not knowing where to mount their radiator correctly. The radiator and the flow direction of your tubes essentially dictate the cooling procedure of your AIO. Hence, mounting your radiator in the correct direction is extremely important.
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The easiest and, quite possibly, the most popular recommendation would be to mount the radiator on top of the case. You can also mount it on the front of your case. The general rule is to always make sure that the top of your radiator is always above your waterblock. Not even on the same level.
Another common mistake people make while mounting their radiator is that they don’t always make sure that the tubes are beneath the radiator and the waterblock. The tubing should always be underneath the waterblock and radiator; otherwise, the liquid won’t circulate properly, and it will produce bubbles inside the tubes, which will severely affect the lifespan of the cooler.
Lastly, when in doubt, always take a moment to go through the manufacturer’s specifications and installation guide that comes with the cooler. This will not only help you understand the physics behind the working of your cooler but also help you understand why you need to mount it in a certain way to ensure the correct flow direction within your system.
How To Install A Liquid CPU Cooler?
Now that you have picked the right size for your AIO cooler and you understand the physics behind its working of it, you are ready to install it. Since this is a generic guide for all general AIOs and yours might have some variations to it. Take a moment to go through the instruction manual of your cooler before as well. Mentioned below is a step-by-step guide on how you can correctly install your CPU cooler.
Before we begin, the first thing you might want to do is, install the motherboard and all the necessary components on it, like your CPU, RAM sticks, and NVME drives. Don’t install the GPU yet. Since it occupies a chunk of your space, it might come in the way of you installing your AIO. If you already have your GPU installed, make sure to take it out. Now you can begin installing your AIO cooler.
Install The Backplate
Backplates are the thing that enable the connection between your CPU and waterblock. They are placed behind the motherboard and CPU socket. This is where the screws of your waterblock mount on, ensuring the connection between your CPU and waterblock. Most CPU cases will have a cutout at the back, which will allow you to put the backplate in place. However, if yours does not have one, you will have to take the motherboard out to place the backplate on it.
Now you need to align your backplate in such a way that all the screw holes of the motherboard are positioned accordingly and pass through it and slot in place. Now secure the backplate in place by using the supported screws that the backplate came with to hold and leave it in place. This is where you will screw on the waterblock later on.
Install The Fans
The next step is to install the fans inside the radiator. It is recommended to install the fans inside the radiator before you install the radiator in the case, as it gets much more complicated once the radiator is inside the case. Take out the fans that came with your cooler and line them up in the correct configuration inside the radiator. Most fans will come with a small arrow on them to demonstrate the direction of airflow.
If there isn’t any arrow on them, refer to the installation guide provided by the manufacturer to make sure the fans are being placed in the correct orientation. After that, grab the longest screws that came with your cooler, as they are probably the only screws long enough to reach the radiator while passing through the fan. Use these screws to secure the fans in place while installing them into the radiator.
Mount The Radiator
At this point, you should have decided on the correct spot to mount your radiator. Now is the time to install it. Make sure you have removed any additional panels or brackets from the spot where you are about to install your radiator. First, align and hold your radiator in the place where you want to mount it.
While holding it there, make sure the cutouts on the case line up correctly with the screw holes on your radiator. Pass the cables of the radiator through the cutouts to the back of your case. Once the radiator is aligned correctly and held up in a place with your hand, tighten the screws to secure its place on the case.
Install The Waterblock
Before installing the waterblock, make sure you remove all the thermal paste that was previously applied on top of your CPU’s IHS. You can check out our guide on how to clean thermal paste off the CPU. Most waterblocks will come with thermal paste pre-applied on them, but if yours does not, then install a small amount of it on the IHS of your CPU.
The next step is to install the retention bracket around your waterblock. Your AIO will come with one. Retention brackets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so make sure you consult the installation guide provided by the manufacturer with your AIO to install it correctly. After you have installed the retention bracket, place the waterblock on your CPU, making sure the waterblock is oriented the right way up.
Make sure the support screws you installed previously are aligned with the waterblock’s retention bracket. You might have to attach the thumbscrews using the attachment clips on your bracket if you own an AMD CPU. After the bracket and thumbscrews are in place, gradually tighten them to secure the waterblock on the CPU.
Manage The Cables
After you have successfully installed all the hardware, the last step is to establish the electrical connection. You will have to connect your AIO cables to your system for this one. Your motherboard will have some fan headers. Connect all the fan cables to the fan headers. Make sure you pass those cables through the back of your case for a cleaner look.
If your fans have RGB, then daisy-chain all your RGB cables and connect them to the RGB connector. Finally, your AIO cooler will require some power to run. So, plug its SATA cable into your PSU to supply power to your cooler. Make sure to recheck all the cables and see if they’re connected to the right headers. Power up your system and install the software your manufacturer has provided you with for the cooler and make sure everything is working as it’s supposed to.
This was everything you needed to know on how to install a liquid CPU cooler. Hopefully, by now, your CPU cooler is up and running as intended. Not only is your CPU way cooler with the temperatures now, but it is also cooler in terms of visuals with the RGB aesthetic over it. Make sure you constantly monitor its temperatures using the dedicated software provided to you.
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